Calling For the Great Reform Act in Europe’s Fisheries

Time Great Reform Against The Privileged Few

Richard Cobden was a great liberal and campaigner for free trade. He fought to rid Britain of the corn laws, which harmed hard-working families by making their food more expensive, and benefited the rich and privileged few. Apart from helping Britain rid itself of protectionism, one of his lasting legacies is the creation of the Economist magazine.

Why Cobden Would Reform the CFP

Richard Cobden would fight to end the madness that is EU’s common fisheries policy. This regime  mainly  makes fish rarer and more expansive. Hard working families can’t afford their cod on Friday, its too expensive.  This regime is responsible for  channeling billions of euros of taxpayers money to large fishing boat owners to first build or  upgrade  their vessels and then pay them to scrap their vessels. Today, the EU imports over 70% of its fish eaten. We import so much, for a very simple reason, we have fished out the once plentiful stocks that we had in our own seas.

 The Baptists and Bootleggers Unite Against Reform

In is ironic that a former Greek Communist, Commissioner Damanaki has embraced the free market to solve the tragedy of the commons that is the EU CFP. However, in an alliance that is reminiscent of the Baptist–bootlegger coalition, large sections of the fishing industry, green and Conservative politicians, and green NGOs, have united against the introduction of property rights to solve the tragedy of the commons.

The Economist – Reason Stands Up For Common Sense

On 24 February 2012, the Economist, perhaps frustrated with the current poor standard of debate, wrote an honest piece entitled  “How to stop fishermen fishing”. In it, the Economist note that ” in most fisheries, the fishermen would make more money by husbanding their resource, and it should be possible to incentivise them to do so. The best ways to give undefined, long-term right to a share of the fish. In regulated industrial fisheries, as in Iceland, New Zealand and America (and one could also add Norway and Denmark), this has taken the form of tradable, individual share of a fishing quota. Developing countries, where law enforcement is weak, seem to do better when a group right over and expand expense of order is given to a corporative or village fleet. The principle is the same: fishermen who feel like owners are more likely to behave as as responsible stewards.”

The Economist concludes that almost everywhere it takes time to convince fishermen, the last hunter gatherers to change their habits. But by the court by caveats though it may be, rights-based approach is the best available.


Sanity in a Mad World

The intervention by the Economist is a welcome respite of sanity. This in a month when the British fisheries minister, Richard Benyon MP, was reported to have backtracked on previous public commitments to end the insane policy permitting the discarding of fish at sea. This was made worse only at the UK House of Commons select committee on environment in its report on the eve of the reform the CFP also seeming to weaken once previous public positions of support on the reform of the CFP and the restricting of discards.

 Infusion of New Ideas and Capital

Conservative entrenched positions are not an other cure the problem of the tragedy of the commons, they are, all too often, the very cause of it. The fishing industry in many countries, Denmark and Norway and Iceland being notable exceptions, have suffered from the lack of transfusion of new blood by limiting new market entrants. The absence of new young dynamic and market minded individuals, as in any other industry, helps preserve stale or decaying ideas.

New Ideas Meet Resistence

The market, and in this case, through rights-based management, allows more easy infusion of new ideas, as must practices and business models to the fishing industry. It is perhaps of no surprise therefore, that Iceland, Norway and Denmark, have a vibrant and profitable young business. Whilst others do not and seem to be managing decline ever more incompetently. This incompetence seems to go hand-in-hand with a vested political class, who encourage, and seemingly support inertia and the absence of any new way of doing business. Richard Cobden took on a privileged mercantile and political class to end outdated and protectionist practice. Its time for someone to take up his mantle.